The Cheeseburger at Saint Dinette: “Perfection is perfected so I’mma let ’em understand”

Saint Dinette Cheeseburger

Beef. Cheese. Bun. That’s it. Do you really need anything else if all three are amazing?

Saint Dinette opened in the summer or 2015 in the increasingly awesome Lowertown Saint Paul. It’s owned by the team behind the Strip Club, J.D. Fratzke and Tim Niver, along with Brad Tetzloff, and helmed by Chef de Cuisine Adam Eaton and general manager Laurel Elm, both La Belle Vie alums. It’s part of the downscaling of upscale, serving meticulously executed distinctly pan-North American food in a comfy-classy environment.

I went in hungry and got a bunch of stuff: ricotta dumplings were crispy, delicate, sweet, and wonderful with a tingly-not-lingery spiciness. Smelt fries were texturally marvelous zesty umami bombs, served with a tangy remoulade. I finished off my meal with some delightful churros, warm from the fryer tossed in cinnamon sugar with a cocoa dipping sauce that I really wanted to drink straight from the cup when I was done, but I managed to restrain myself–I ate it with a spoon like a damn grown-up. But before dessert, I had the burger.

Saint Dinette cross section

The trick here is the cheese, because there’s otherwise no sauce, and that’s usually a dealbreaker for me. Although the menu just says “cheddar” and that’s definitely the strongest ingredient, I’m calling foul, because it certainly doesn’t melt like cheddar, and there’s something bigger going on here, leading me to believe Saint Dinette has a masterfully homemade American cheese, and it’s absolutely transcendant. I’ve looked into making American cheese (here’s a recipe, if you’re curious), and theirs seems to fit the formula: slight wine flavor, melts right, but tastes really really good. Any smoothness and moisture that a mayo or ketchup traditionally contributes was more than made up for via this cheese, which I’d eat with nearly anything.

I don’t know if the bun is homemade or not but it pulls off that oft-impossible task of being essentially squishy. Look at the cross section above. The bread’s less than half its original height, and that bottom bun is flush to the patty. This is what bread should be doing: carrying the meat. They skip the illusions of grandeur that come with putting a burger on brioche, full of the knowledge that if you’re going to serve up an inappropriate amount of butter it should be slathered onto the bun and flattop grilled alongside the patty. It fuses an extra layer of Maillard the carbs couldn’t achieve on their own, but keeps the focus elsewhere while making its presence known.

And the beef. It’s a tasty well-seasoned beef blend that managed to stay miraculously moist despite employing the smashing method. It had a nice sear, just crispy enough, but the meat was a good pink; it’s tough to find that balance, but they nail it. Texturally, there was just enough chew to keep it in my mouth long enough to make sure I enjoyed every second of it.

And to top it all off, there’s a small stack of pickles on the side to cut through some of the fat with acid.

But the masterpieciness comes from how well all three parts play together. Skipping sauce has the added effect of placing the beef and cheese center stage, while the bun is the stage–you aren’t looking at it, but without it the main characters would fall through. Since they opened, the burger at Saint Dinette has been one of the most hyped food items in town, and since I started Burger Fetish, people have been asking if I’ve had it. Well, now I have. And I can definitely see what everyone’s talking about.

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The Nightingale Burger: “I feel so cold and I long for your embrace”

Nightingale Burger

I don’t have a car. I mostly bike, but in the winter I bus. Which usually works fine, but every few years there’s a snow storm so fucked that even Minnesota gives up, and goes to bed early to shovel in the morning. I, of course, had this past Tuesday off and wild, outlandish plans to go far and away to get a burger, having been chastised by my housemate Dane on nary venturing outside of South Minneapolis. But then the storm.

Luckily, there’s a tasty burger I’ve been saving for an emergency. It’s by no means inferior, and this situation perfectly illustrates my relationship with this establishment: it’s getting late, I’m hungry, and I want an actual real-deal tasty fucking meal within four blocks from my house. Nightingale is the best chef-driven restaurant in my neighborhood that serves its full menu until 1am.

Chef-owner Carrie McCabe-Johnson earned her stripes working for Alex Roberts at Alma and Brassa before opening Nightingale with her husband Jasha Johnson in 2012, in the former location of a bodega that had the best damn gyros in town. I was actually kind of spiteful about the loss of the gyros (seriously) and avoided Nightingale for a while, but when I finally came around there was some definite serious self-kicking. They do a lot of small plates, which is the way I love to eat (a burger is a small plate). Their menu is super comfortable–nothing outlandish, mostly standards, but done very, very well. I rarely leave the place without sucking down a few oysters.

Madeleine and I met up in the mid-afternoon to get ice cream at the already consistently incredible Milkjam Creamery when we realized we could easily dip on over to Nightingale and rescue my storm-ruined burger plans, because after ice cream is totally when you should eat a burger. As an added bonus we hit their afternoon happy hour, where the burger is discounted (it isn’t on the late night happy hour).

Nightingale cross section

First I should mention that halfway through, we both realized we’d been given the wrong burgers–I go med-rare, and Madeleine gets medium–and that it was too late to switch, but she gave me her pink middle bites, and they were lovely and silky and everything I want in a burger, but I was somewhat disappointed with my medium-cooked patty. It could definitely have used a bit deeper of a sear, but the seasoning was good, and complemented by the aged cheddar. The tomato was forgettable and romaine gave a good crunch, but the main attraction is the decadence of the brioche bun and the herb aioli. The homemade bun did the seemingly impossible task of hitting that essential squishiness with a just noticeable chew, but was also supremely buttery. Butter’s baked in and spread on before toasting. The aioli is awesomely fragrant, and did an excellent job of highlighting the herbs while the oil carried the flavors forward. Together, they were reminiscent of focaccia, in all of its herby-oily goodness, and really presented the gourmet quality of this burger. I tried a couple of pickle slices on the burger but they got lost amongst the other flavors and were better off on the side. Besides the doneness mishap, my only downside is that the beef isn’t as dominant a flavor. A thicker, bistro-style burger would push the decadence through the roof and tweak the balance just enough to make this excellent burger legendary. It would certainly justify a couple bucks over its $13 price tag ($9 on happy hour).

The fries are excellently crispy, skin-on, and served with a magically delicious malt vinegar aioli.

Nightingale is a spot I already irregularly infrequent, and I’m sure this burger will find its way down my gullet time and time again. On top of their excellent bar program, they have Hamms on tap, and if you make it to their afternoon happy hour (4-6pm), you can add a pint of Hamms to your burger for a buck. A buck.